Earlier this month I caught up with Matthew Wilding to discuss his latest Kickstarter project, Free Hands, which he’s created with artist Matt Rowe and letterer Toben Racicot – under the comic book imprint Sequential Decay.
Free Hands is a 6-issue historical noir adventure series about the small rebellions and little victories–often coupled with crimes and violence–tackling social and cultural struggles still present today, through the lens of the “golden age of piracy.” We covered many aspects of the Kickstarter process including his experience on Zoop with another project, Pirate socialist structures and his plans for Free Hands in the future.
Tell us a bit about yourselves and what do you do in the world of comics?
Matthew Wilding: I’m a Boston-based writer and public historian who works primarily in 18th century Boston museums. My comic work includes writing Nightmare Man (Source Point Press) and most recently the collection Small Bites.
Matt Rowe is an artist from London, Ontario who worked with Wilding on Nightmare Man, and most recently put out his creator-owned Eternal Dieback, as well as a story in Wilding’s Small Bites.
The two of us met on Reddit during the pandemic and collaborated on a short story called “Little Things,” and just kept doing stuff together ever since.
We don’t get much in the way of pirate comics but when I see them I get very excited. Where did you draw your piratey swashbuckling inspiration from?
Matthew Wilding: Free Hands is actually a long time coming. I studied history in college and took a class on piracy where we dug into historical accounts from the 18th and 19th century, as well a contemporary research. The idea for the story came specifically from an account of an execution of a pirate named William Fly in early 17th century Boston after a long and drawn out attempt at extracting repentance by notorious puritan minister (and famous witch killer) Cotton Mather.
I used that story as a basis, and drew in some other classic pirate accounts of folks like Black Bart Roberts, Blackbeard. There’s also a little bit of Mary Read and some slave ship mutinies that come into play as the story goes on.
I wanted to capture all of the wild pirate captain characteristics in a single story and also explore some of the proto-socialist structures among pirate crews that historians like Marcus Rediker have explored in their works.
You’ve been busy with a couple of releases since last we spoke. How would you say your comic creating partnership has grown and evolved since the release of Nightmare Man?
Matthew Wilding: I think we’ve become increasingly honest with each other. It’s always been that way, but more and more, we are just willing to be like “this isn’t working,” or “what if we did it like this instead?” There’s a level of trust and candor that comes with collaborating on almost 100 pages together. The other big thing is that Rowe has made big leaps as an artist in the past two years, so there’s a lot more willingness to take risks on the page now than there might have been in the beginning.
I noticed you gave Zoop a go and now you’ve returned back to Kickstarter. Why the switcheroo?
Matthew Wilding: Operations, mostly. Zoop is a great platform and we look forward to seeing them continue to grow, but running a crowdfunding campaign is arduous and time consuming, and Kickstarter just has back-end infrastructure that saves a lot of time.
For non-piratey folk, how would you describe Issue 1 of Free Hands? Is this pirate themed silly book for kids?
Matthew Wilding: It is not a silly book for kids, no. Free Hands is a pretty intense historical drama. While we wanted to capture some of the fantastical and dare I say “fun” aspects of piracy, the story is rooted in the struggle for freedom and the desperate acts people art party to to achieve that freedom. It is in a lot of ways about whether or not you’re willing to take your freedom at the expense of others, and if so, who.
There’s also a sort of crime/mystery thread throughout it. It’s a story of violence and mutiny that extends across the Atlantic Ocean as recounted by the final survivor of a crew in a very stressful and dangerous situation, and has aspects of unreliable narrator stories like Moby Dick and The Usual Suspects in it.
The target audience for this is probably 14+, fans of Brubaker’s crime stuff, Stray Bullets, and Ram V’s These Savage Shores.
What are your plans for Free Hands. Where to next?
Matthew Wilding: The arc is supposed to run six issues and has a very big ending. There are at least two stories that are built into the initial run that we can expand off of.
I’m also going to be doing a comic with Jeremiah Schiek called Old Devils, which follows up a washed up reality star from a Ghost Hunters meets The Real World-type show getting dragged back into a paranormal investigation of man-eating imp creatures in the Dakotas. Rowe is going to continue on with Dieback. We are also cooking up a haunted house story.
Finally… the age old question which needs to be settled here and now.
Captain Hook or Blackbeard?
Matthew Wilding: Blackbeard. This is a no-brainer. But honestly, your new favorite captain after Free Hands is going to be Captain Silk.
Hit me with your Kickstarter link.
Have I convinced you to support Free Hands?
Check out the Free Hands Kickstarter and leave a comment below.